Hard data on commercially sexually exploited children (CSEC) in the United States is difficult to obtain. One reason is that studies that count the number of exploited child victims and describe their characteristics are expensive to undertake. The population is well hidden. The lack of data undermines our work to protect victims of sex trafficking. There are some research studies on CESC, but they are often criticized for their methods of estimating the number of CSEC or they are based on extrapolations from known populations, not on hard data.
The FBI has a database with a great deal of information and statistics about sexually exploited people, both adults and children, who have been murdered; information that could be helpful when policy makers devise programs and policies for the protection of children. The FBI’s Highway Serial Killer Initiative (HSK Initiative) has been gathering data since at least 2009. The FBI has spoken to the press about the database, including names and details about victims. Beginning in 2010, ECPAT-USA sought information from this database, under the Federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), to use it to advocate for better and more specific protection programs for children. Our request is not seeking information that is confidential or would compromise law enforcement efforts to combat human trafficking or solved cases in the HSK Initiative. The FBI has repeatedly denied our requests. Our efforts, and the need for the information have been discussed with Oregon’s Senator Ron Wyden who wrote a letter to the Director of the FBI on our behalf, seeking release of the requested information. We are grateful for Senator Wyden’s support of our efforts to obtain this information as well as his long-term commitment to combat CSEC and provide services to survivors.
Coincidentally, yesterday the FBI announced their latest nationwide sting operation that resulted in the rescue of 79 sexually exploited children, from ages 13 to 17, and the arrest of 104 pimps. While of course we are happy that this large number of children were found and rescued, it also highlights the information that is being kept out of the public view. What about all the youngsters who were not rescued? We are pleased that the FBI continues to track down pimps and help the victims. Without these efforts some of the children who were rescued could have ended up on the long list of victims in the HSK Initiative. Just as the FBI released information about the recently rescued victims, we ask them to release information about those victims who were not as lucky. We ask this in the interest of protecting every child’s right to grow up free from commercial sexual exploitation.